Chris Atton
Reader in Journalism
Napier University

Bringing alternative media practice to theory: social movements, communities and their 'journalisms'

The study of alternative media has already established a significant body of work that has sought to make sense of practice through theoretical work that is both specific to alternative media and that draws on a range of prior theoretical models (Atton 2002; Atton 2004; Downing 2001; Rodriguez 2000).  Couldry and Curran (2003) have argued that the term 'alternative' emphasises the relationship between alternative media and mass media, and have placed an emphasis on media power.  It is this relationship and, in particular, how it might inform our understanding of norms and means in the production of alternative media, which earlier theorisations of such media seem to miss.  Whilst social movement theories might explain the role of alternative media in mobilizing resources (RMT) or in constructing collective identity (Melucci), they do little to help us explain the increasingly numerous (and contested) claims made about alternative media as journalism.

Rarely are these claims and challenges examined by alternative media scholars; more often they are treated as givens.  We need to develop alternative media theories into news practice and to take into account news framing, representation, discourse, ethics and norms in the practices of alternative media.  This is an important step if we are to develop a critical approach to our studies, to take account of how alternative media practices connect to audiences and to produce work that is relevant to alternative media projects and their audiences.
Atton, Chris. 2002. Alternative media. London: Sage.
Atton, Chris. 2004. An alternative internet: Radical media, politics and creativity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
Couldry, Nick and James Curran. 2003. The paradox of media power. In Contesting media power: Alternative media in a networked world, eds. Nick Couldry and James Curran: 3-15. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.
Downing, John. 2001. Radical media: Rebellious communication and social movements. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Rodriguez, Clemencia. 2000. Fissures in the mediascape: An international study of citizens' media. Cresskill: Hampton Press.

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Peace Institute Slovenian Communication Association Dep't of Media Studies